Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op.52 Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64 Dvořák
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
OAE/Elder 1 May
Thursday, May 01, 2003 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
A feeling of disappointment rounded-off this concert. Dvořáks great symphony never quite took wing despite Mark Elders musicianship and some spirited playing. There was a lack of spontaneity. A rather monotonous traversal of this compact if generous symphony emphasised (too much) its pastoralism; thus tragic implications were glossed over and left little to resolve; the musics scope seemed limited. Maybe, to modern ears, this was because of the less than full-tones of authentic instruments, or the lower pitch of tuning, or simply that the musics darker side was suppressed probably a combination of all three.
What did emerge though was how naturally balances fall into place with the use of these instruments, and how unforced details can emerge. The use of valve horns, however, didnt make these instruments any more secure! What was also gratifying is that the musicians never made this symphony sound like Brahms.
An intrinsic regard for texture engaged in the Schumann too, a symphony without a slow movement, yet Elders tempo for the Overtures fast sections was a tad dragging and the whole lacked sparkle, despite a light touch and some wit in the Scherzo. Some of Elders phrasal distends, while affectionate, didnt always allow this composer his whimsicality; there was too much calculation. Coarse-grained tuttis and edgy brass was countered by the use of antiphonal violins, which throughout the concert livened things up in terms of dialogue.
And such aural appreciation is needed for Viktoria Mullova do not listen with your eyes or youll miss her smouldering way with Mendelssohn (or anybody else for that matter); what she does is in her sound, not in her demeanour. The incongruity of her full vibrato, while the orchestras strings used degrees of it, aside good to know that Elder isnt a total martyr to the cause by ignoring this colour she offered incision, dexterity and unforced lyricism. She charged the atmosphere with her familiar interpretation. Elder and the OAE offered a gentle accompaniment, some strands of which could have been in more relief, that was tactile and brought near-perfect balance between soloist and orchestra. Expect a new Mullova recording any day of the Mendelssohn (plus the Beethoven) for Philips.